Yes, it’s time to do the year-end award list, like everyone always does! I did one last year, barely two weeks into the founding of this site’s predecessor, Scattered Cels, and I’m going to be using most of the same categories–as well a couple of new ones. And, in tomorrow’s entry in part 2, they won’t be “honors.” :) Note, too, this is for anime that I’ve seen. There’s a lot I haven’t seen at all.
With that–drumroll please…
ef-a tale of memories
Runner up: Paprika
SHAFT wins this year with daring, inventive directing. As both Martin and I have discovered, they (most likely the double team of Shin Oonuma and Akayuki Shinbo) are carrying the artsy and divisive legacy of Hideaki Anno which Gainax, in Gurren Lagann and other recent work, has managed to largely shake off. (Note that does not mean that GL is bad. Not at all. Just different.) ef also happened to be a well-written, emotionally charged show that featured some of the year’s best music, despite some unfortunate lapses.
Paprika is, on one level, more of the sort of thing Satoshi Kon does best. But there is an infectious joyousness to this particular film that some of his previous projects were lacking, a dynamism combined with some of the most surreal and glorious visuals ever put to anime. Like most of his work, it was more intellectually than emotionally engaging. But it is a film that demands to be seen on a huge screen, just to marvel at the inventiveness and detail that this true artist always delivers.
Tentative Kickass Award
Runners-up (tentative): Darker than Black, Gurren Lagann
This was easy, mostly because this is the one I saw the most of! And not just because we interviewed the staff, either, and notwithstanding the ending which many have complained about: it wasn’t just chicks with huge swords, though that part worked pretty well, I must say. It had a story; it had character; it was heading somewhere.
This opinion is subject to change once the author finishes Darker than Black or Gurren Lagann. The parts that he has seen of both are incredibly cool but for some reason he has not finished them as of late, due to commitments with other shows and the rest of life. Watch this space. This battle is not actually over yet.
Laugh Till You Die Awards
Tie: Seto no Hanayome and Minami-ke
This was very difficult to decide. The one everyone was salivating over this year, Lucky Star, simply wasn’t as funny to me as the two titles above. SnH holds a record for me burning through the entire series in the shortest amount of time, and despite a few missteps in the second half was frequently so laugh-out-loud funny that I watched many moments over and over repeatedly.
But Minami-ke seems to be in many ways a spiritual heir to Azumanga Daioh, albeit with a few more fan service elements and many more traps. It started low key and got progressively funnier, to the point where I can pick myself up just by watching it immediately after download. The characters are both funny and endearing and I hope the change of staff in the next season isn’t going to change that. (Thankfully, it is the same cast.)
Emotional Satisfaction Award
Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time)
Runners-up: ef-a tale of memories, Byousoku 5 cm
Yes, I know the winner technically came out in 2006–but the fansub, and thus my watching, came out in 2007. Tough cookies. :-p TokiKake had a fully satisfying ending, unlike ef, and has sustained about three viewings with hardly any loss in emotional impact. It has this year’s best song, its ending “Garnet.” It was one of the most well-rounded casts and least shrill voice acting ever in anime, with excellent dialogue.
Most importantly, it was the only anime I watched this year that actually made me cry.
ef, of course, is no slouch at all, but the tidiness of its ending made it somewhat less than what it could have been (despite its status as my favorite TV show of the year). Byousoku 5cm, which I rewatched last night, is wonderful in many ways, but Shinkai’s themes are getting a little worn out. Which is why I decided to give it something else…
Eye Popper Award
Byousoku 5 cm
Runners-up: Paprika, Mononoke
It’s not an accident that the winner is Makoto Shinkai. He is, after all, anime’s best background artist, though some may be a little offput by how shiny and light-dappled his worlds seem to be–let’s hope he doesn’t turn into Thomas Kinkaide. But that aside, Byousoku 5 cm is easily some of the most ravishing depictions of modern Japan ever committed to film, painted with exacting realistic detail, and when paired with the melancholic, insightful monologues creates the most immersive mood pieces ever seen in anime.
Paprika‘s visuals are spectacular in a different way, in service to Kon’s exercises in mindbending. The fluidity and effortless grace with which he portrays the strangest sights is worthy of honorable mention. So is, despite its extremely “acquired taste” style, Mononoke, which eschews most anime art style altogether in favor of a pastiche of Edo-era art and extremely flat backgrounds. No one is probably likely to try it again, but someone did, and such experiments are worth honoring all the same.
Thought Provocation Award
Runner-up: Ghost in the Shell S.A.C.: Solid State Society
Hey, Bokurano was the subject of my first audio column, after all! It dared to explore some of the harshest subjects known to humankind, namely, what people do in the face of certain immediate death, with political elements entering later. An Ender’s Game for the giant robot anime lover set, it mixed wrenching emotion with Big Questions effectively.
The GitS SAC series has always excelled in mixing action with philosophy, arguably better than its movie counterparts, and this solid film/OVA (the line is blurred for this production) does more of the same. In fact, this can be seen as the SAC staff’s take on the first Oshii film, of which it feels like a variation.
Guilty Pleasure Award
Runner-up: Rental Magica
Even though I still think the ending was too sadistic to be entertaining, to the point where I honestly felt tainted–I can’t deny that the lurid process on the way to it was really, really fun. Once I gave up on taking it seriously, of course. It was fun to speculate on Makoto’s means of death. It was fun to watch him pile lie upon lie and mix spinelessness and insensitivity so wretchedly. It was fun to see the last episode pre-empted by the Nice Boat and come up with conspiracy theories. For a moment I was joined with the rest of the anime blogosphere in its Two Months’ Hate and I liked it. The STABBY STAB STAB isn’t in all caps for nothing.
And then there’s Rental Magica, which doesn’t have one original bone in its body, and has the wimpiest male lead seen in ages. But it’s still fun to see his harem contort themselves in order to try to woo him anyway, in large part because it’s so blatant and so obvious even more than in other harem shows. The way he immediately becomes Lelouch after taking off his eyepatch is amusing in that it appears not to cost him anything, despite dark hints that it might. Rental Magica, in other words, is pure 100% wish fulfillment. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Mmmm, Honami meganekko.
Sit Back and Relax Award
Kimikiss Pure Rouge
Runner-up: Lucky Star
This is the new award for the most feelgood or relaxing show. Kimikiss does this in spades, with refreshingly normal and relatively well-adjusted teens going through normal relationship problems and slowly realizing their true feelings without enormous buckets of angst and drama. The watercolor artwork courtesy of JC Staff’s Honey and Clover and Nodame Cantabile experience feeds into the warm, nostalgic feeling of the show. The distance I have come in my regard for this show since its inception is incredible. It is also one of the few shows I watch immediately upon download whenever possible.
Lucky Star was a show I described as otaku comfort food, and I’d say that’s still the best metaphor I can come up with. Rarely does it ever explore anything emotional, and most of the time the pleasure is in imagining a girl who knows more about anime and manga and games than you do–and is funnier than you. Like Azumanga Daioh, its short sketches are easy to digest and long on cuteness, and was endearing enough to drive away the trauma drama that I seem to subject myself to every season in anime. Heck, I marathoned the thing.
Well, that does it for the Michael Huang 2007 Diet Awards. Tomorrow, the year’s last day, is the Michael Huang 2007 Diet Demerits–the worst of everything I’ve seen! Stay tuned.